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King Island, Alaska

King Island (Alaska)
Location in Alaska

King Island (Inupiaq: Ugiuvak) (King's Island in early US sources) is an island in the Bering Sea, west of Alaska. It is about 40 miles (64 km) west of Cape Douglas and is south of Wales, Alaska.



The island is about 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. It was once the winter home of a group of about 200 Inupiat who called themselves Aseuluk. The Aseuluk spent their winters engaging in subsistence hunting on King Island and their summers engaging in similar activities on the mainland near the location of present-day Nome, Alaska. After the establishment of Nome, the islanders began to sell intricate carvings to residents of Nome during the summer. By 1970, all King Island people had moved to Nome year-round.

In 2005 and 2006 the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a research project which brought a few King Island natives back to the Island. Some participants had not been back to the island in 50 years. The King Island Community eagerly awaits the project's results.

James Cook was the first European to sight the island in 1778 and named for Lt. James King, a member of his party. It is part of the Bering Sea unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

King island is a small island located about 40 miles off shore from the village of Wales and about 90 miles Northwest of Nome. It was the home of a group of about 200 Inupiat who called themselves Ukivokmiut. Ukivokmiut meaning "People of the sea" Ukivok, the village of King Island and 'miut' meaning 'people of' or 'group of people'.

The Ukivokmiut spent their summers engaging in subsistence hunting on and around King Island and their winters in other subsistence activities such as hunting and fishing on the ice such as seal hunting, crab fishing and gathering other useful foods for the winter. The spring and summer was the important time of gathering to the Ukivokmuits, while the winters were the time of dance. Due to the limited daylight during the winter, the days were spent dancing in the 'Qagri', or men's communal house. As an example, the month of December is known to the Ukivokmuit as 'Sauyatugvik' or the time of drumming.

Once Nome became a main village of the Seward Peninsula, the islanders began to sell their carvings to residents of Nome during the summer. In the mid 1900s the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed the school on Ukivok, forcefully taking the children of Ukivok to go to school on mainland Alaska, leaving the elders and adults to gather the needed food for winter. Resulting from the children not being on the island to help gather the needed food for winter, the adults and elders had no choice but to move to mainland to make their living. By 1970, all King Island people had moved to mainland Alaska year-round.

Even after the movement off the island, some King Islanders still return to gather subsistence foods such as walrus and seal. Although the King Islanders have moved off the island, they have kept a very distinct cultural identity, living a very similar life as they had on the Island.

See also

  • King Island Native Community
  • http://www.kawerak.org/tribalHomePages/kingIsland/
  • http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/king-island-living-community-and-mystical-place

External links

  • Ancient mask returned to Alaska ghost village, MSNBC, January 18, 2008
  • Photogallery of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of King Island, Alaska, Oregon State University, October 28, 2008
  • Munoz photographs - King Island early 1950s
  • Survey of a King Island kayak
  • Deanna M Kingston, "King Island", Encyclopedia of the Arctic, A-F p 1090, Routledge, 1005.
  • p 99-103

Coordinates: 64°58′30″N 168°03′35″W / 64.97500°N 168.05972°W / 64.97500; -168.05972

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